Many students ask about meditation and following the example set by HPB and Mr. Judge this extremely important subject it treated with utmost care and concern.  In the mad rush age we live in, with a focus on instant results, and over-night potions many are misguided into thinking that meditation can be reduced to a technique or a formula.  It cannot.  In this wonderful article by Mr. Judge he uses the analogy of archery to give us a glimpse into the mysterious world of meditation, which may in the end be different for each individual.

"Archery has always been in vogue, whether in nations civilized or among people of barbarous manners. We find Arjuna, prince of India, the possessor of a wonderful bow called Gandiva, the gift of the gods. None but its owner could string it, and in war it spread terror in the ranks of the enemy. Arjuna was a wonderful archer too. He could use Gandiva as well with his right as with his left hand, and so was once addressed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita dialogue as “thou both-handed.” The bow figures in the lives of Greek heroes, and just now the novelist Louis Stevenson is publishing a book in which he sings the praises of a bow, the bow of war possessed by Ulysses; when war was at hand it sang its own peculiar, shrill, clear song, and the arrows shot from it hit the mark.

Archery is a practice that symbolizes concentration. There is the archer, the arrow, the bow, and the target to be hit. To reach the mark it is necessary to concentrate the mind, the eye, and the body upon many points at once, while at the same time the string must be let go without disturbing the aim. The draw of the string with the arrow must be even and steady on the line of sight, and when grasp, draw, aim, and line are perfected, the arrow must be loosed smoothly at he moment of full draw, so that by the bow’s recoil it may be carried straight to the mark. So those who truly seek wisdom are archers trying to hit the mark. This is spiritual archery, and it is to this sort that the verse from the Mundaka Upanishad refers.

In archery among men a firm position must be assumed, and in the pursuit of truth this firm position must be taken up and not relaxed, if the object in view is to be ever attained. The eye must not wander from the target, for, if it does, the arrow will fly wide or fall short of its goal. So if we start out to reach the goal of wisdom, the mind and heart must not be permitted to wander, for the path is narrow and the wanderings of a day may cause us years of effort to find the road again."

Your thoughts, comments and questions please.

Also see:  Universal Theosophy: On Concentration

Views: 184

Replies to This Discussion

This is  an absolutely wonderful passage to share on this subject.  I think it would be hard to improve on the advice given here.  Thank you Nicholas!

Thanks, Gerry,

Good thread.  I've been thinking about the matter of concentration also.  The mind certainly could use a little more focus for sure - it flitters around so much, rarely settling, concerned about the self. 

It seems important to understand the subject of concentration from the standpoint of what is being concentrated upon, and what part of our being is doing the concentration. 


Good point.  Perhaps it might be wise to start with the question:  What is the impediment to concentration? What makes the mind fly off from object to object?

Gerry just invited me back with such a lovely message, I had to respond - thank you Gerry. I also think very highly of what Nicholas quoted. The quote of the arrow and mark is very to the point   :-)

I can add some words for meditation I have heard from another wiser than I :

I know I am a spark of that Eternal Flame; I am a grain of sand upon this beach of life;I am related to a blade of grass and co-related to the leaf on a tree; I am part of the Universal All, what can be denied me?

Also to respond to Tamiko Yamaha, In my understanding meditation (plus living the life) can lead us to transcendence ultimately, and this would mean the death of our lower minds or small selves. Because we have programme running to survive and not jump off cliffs like Lemmings, plus the well-worn paths that we have woven to understand this physical reality we think are invaluable, our little thoughts seem not to go willingly or "quietly into that deep night". 

I think your question Tamiko requires us to study the mind in all its facets.  The tendencies of the lower mind we know are impediments to concentration.  B.P. Wadia make the point that the lower mind which he calls Kama-Manas or Passion-Mind has at least three outstanding characteristics:1. It is confused 2. It is infatuated 3. It is wandering.

"That mind is confused as to its owner' place in the scheme of things; being infatuated with itself and its possessor's self-importance, it flies fast and faster from object to object in the world of things, and from subject to subject in the world of thoughts. It is really trying to justify itself in conflict with other wandering Passion-Minds."

At least these are some thoughts to consider in the direction to your question.

Thank you Don, friends, 

The following are selections taken from the Kāṭhaka Upanisad [1.3.3-6].  

3. Know that the Atman is the rider in the chariot and the body is the chariot, Know that the Buddhi (Intelligence) is the charioteer (directing the chariot) and Manas (mind) is the reins.

4. The senses are called the horses, the objects of the senses are their paths (on which the horses drive) Formed out of the union of the Atman, the senses and the Manas, him they call the 'enjoyer.'

5. One who lives his life without (using his) intelligence, with his mind unbridled, his senses are unruly like the bad horses of the charioteer. 

6. One, however, who lives his life by (using) intelligence with his mind well-controlled, his senses remain controlled like the good horses of a charioteer.

There is a lot of information packed in to these 4 slokas, however, putting the aside the depth of the teaching and allowing imagination to formulate the simple and suggestive imagery of the slokas, one may begin to have a clear idea of the "inner workings" of concentration.  For instance, when we allow ourselves to create an image of what has just been read, we begin to see that a union is needed between Buddhi and Manas for concentration/proper discernment (initiated by Atma), and without this union, we have Manas (mind), gravitating towards the desire natures, or as Don puts it; "The mind certainly could use a little more focus for sure - it flitters around so much, rarely settling, concerned about the self."  Perhaps we could literally imagine a chariot being splintered, reins tangled and knotted by horses tearing at each other to run down their own path of desires. 

Could we say that control is synonymous with concentration? As we see "control" is used a lot in The Upanishads and other texts,  what does it mean to "control the mind"?  Through experience, I have been greatly misunderstood using such a word (control), personally I do not see the issue, but I would like to hear from people who think otherwise.  

We see another example of control put to use a few more slokas further;

13. The wise one should control speech together with Manas and merge them in the self of consciousness (the Buddhi, intellect).  He should control and merge this (Buddhi) in 'the great Self,' and this 'great Self' in the Self of rest and repose.

Why is focused attention and centering of the mind so rare and so infrequent in our lives?

What would it mean to concentrate on an ideal for a lifetime?

Why is focused attention and centering of the mind so rare and so infrequent in our lives?

Could environment be of consideration? Social expectations? Leisure? This is a question I struggle with because of conflicting personal opinions.

Ultimately, the sole decision rests upon the individual.  It is us that makes us do things, no one else. Others may encourage behaviors or present situations that requires us to take action, however ultimately we can decide what that action may be, ideally this may be so.  Anyway you look at it, any outside person or event can not make the individual feel anything else than that which the individual allows themselves to feel or to react to.  

With this in mind, when we approach the question,  "why is focused attention and centering the mind so rare and so infrequent?"  The self (lower natures) does not like to be ignored.  Everything we are encouraged to do- at least in the states- force feeds the self. From early ages children are encouraged to be cut-throat, competitive, and are rewarded with pleasurable objects, this is conditioning, and we are told we are unable to live a successful and healthy life if avoided.  Just like dogs, children are faced peer to peer in the battle of the wits. Separation, division, conquer, success. This is just one side of the story, sadly enough, there is a major emphasis on the personality. There is so much we don't know going on out of sight, who is to say this is a negative thing? Is it not leading to some sort of global realization? Is it not our karma? Hence the conflicting opinions. 

But as it has been pointed out, once we can see this self, it becomes a "moral obligation" to  "eradicate it".  Perhaps the question should be, "why do we not allow ourselves to focus and center the mind?"  

Allow us to look at Patanjali's [I.4] for further consideration;
"At other times than that of concentration, the soul is in the same form as the modification of the mind."

What can we make of this?

But as it has been pointed out, once we can see this self, it becomes a "moral obligation" to  "eradicate it".  Perhaps the question should be, "why do we not allow ourselves to focus and center the mind?" 

barbara - When our emotions are turbulent,  which is often the case, it is hard to concentrate.  Moreover, we are centered in gross sensations.  Shifting to the mind feels boring because we are not accustomed to the subtle vibrations.  

Allow us to look at Patanjali's [I.4] for further consideration;
"At other times than that of concentration, the soul is in the same form as the modification of the mind."

What can we make of this?

barbara - Outside of meditation, chitta or mind stuff are totally identified with the vrittis, different forms of modification.   

Since we have been talking about the Gita in the Sacred Texts group here is a passage that addresses Don and Tamiko's points:

Arjuna: O Krishna, the mind is full of agitation, turbulent, strong and obstinate.  I believe the restraint of it to be as difficult as that of the wind.

Krishna:  Without doubt, O thou of mighty arms, the mind is restless and hard to restrain; but it may be restrained, O son of Kunti, by practice and absence of desire.  Yet in my opinion this divine discipline called yoga is very difficult for one who hath not his soul in his own control; yet it may be acquired through proper means and by one who is assiduous and controlleth the heart.

This is a really helpful passage, Gerry, because in and of itself concentration is neutral and is a power that can be used for good or ill depending upon both our motive and our understanding.   If one aspect of concentration of mind is "restraint", then Krishna informs us where that restraint should start - with the soul itself.  The latter concerns our moral nature, the understanding of our true nature, and our relationship to other sentient beings.  So it seems to me that the art of concentration needs to emerge out of a background of at least right motive and right understanding.

For the reasons you outline here I thought Nicholas's contribution was particularly helpful.  Concentrating, meditating, contemplating high and noble themes is  wonderful place to start on this subject of Hitting the Mark.

I think one key is we have to shift the attention of the mind away from the puny little self, the personal I, the desires of the man in the world. Krishna is advocating focusing the mind on the Supreme Spirit. That is where our concentration, so to speak, needs to be redirected more and more.  It is hard.   Anyone who says it is easy hasn't really tried.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Don Petros on December 3, 2013 at 4:53pm
Right. The mind is restless and uncontrolled. Some kind of ordering or calming is obviously needed. How does one have this ordered and calm mind?

It seems that the kind of order that this implies wouldn't be authoritarian-like. It would seem that it should descend, or flow down from the Buddhic state.
Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 4, 2013 at 9:51am

Don, do you remember Mr. Judge talking about the art of higher carelessness?   When we "try" to hard it is really just the lower mind wanting to possess something.  He tells us we need to adopt the attitude of "higher carelessness".  Interesting idea don't you think?

Permalink Reply by Don Petros on December 4, 2013 at 10:15am


Yes, I recall the comment about 'carelessness' from WQ Judge.  I think about it, and try to understand how to apply that idea to life.  It's a carelessness about the results of our personal ambitions; a carelessness about the outcome of events.  It reminds me of the first page of 'Light on the Path':

"Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears. Before the ear can hear, it must have lost its sensitiveness. Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the power to wound. Before the soul can stand in the presence of the Masters its feet must be washed in the blood of the heart.

1. Kill out ambition.

2. Kill out desire of life.

3. Kill out desire of comfort.

4. Work as those work who are ambitious.

Respect life as those do who desire it. Be happy as those are who live for happiness.

Permalink Reply by LJG on December 4, 2013 at 8:44am

One of my favorite theosophical articles. I think it entails that living the life is the meditation and at this point in evolution, it will supersede any formal meditation or intimate moments many schools recommend to dedicate to oneself daily. The analogy of the archer and all its components outlines the various principles which need to be harnessed in order to begin climbing rung by rung the ladder described in the Voice of the Silence. The archer is the perceiver, the bow the subject, and the mark the object which fits an endless stream of archetypes. The balance of these three (hence seven) lead one to what Patanjali would define as concentration.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 5, 2013 at 7:03pm

Well said!

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 5, 2013 at 11:58am

There is a story about Arjuna in the Mahabharata concerning archery. Arjuna and two other young archers were training with their teacher.   The teacher asked all three boys to take aim at a bird perched on the top of a tree many paces away.  While drawn and in the ready position the teacher asked each archer the same question: "What do you see?"

First boy:  I see the tree, the bird and the sky.

Second boy: I see the bird and the top of the tree.

Arjuna:  "Teacher I only see the eye of the bird."

Arjuna would become the finest archer in the land.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on December 5, 2013 at 7:02pm

I was taught something similar when learning to play hockey: average players see where the goalie is and try to figure out how to get the puck past him; a great player sees only the net. It was a valuable lesson!

Permalink Reply by Peter on December 6, 2013 at 8:02am

While there is obviously an overlap, I wonder whether we might distinguish here between that general kind of concentrated aim we have for our aspiring spiritual life (including the day to day living of it) and the specific practice of concentration referred to in the development of concentration, meditation and contemplation?

In 'The Voice of the Silence' we find a reference to the latter meaning of concentration in its very first instruction: 

“He who would hear the voice of Nada, “the Soundless Sound” and comprehend it, he has to learn the nature of Dharana.”  (VOS, Fragment 1)

In the glossary note HPB defines dharana (concentration) as “the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external Universe, or the world of the senses.”  (p73, Original Edition)

The first instruction of the first chapter (about Concentration) in Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms is -Yoga chitta vritti nirodha.   This is usually translated along the lines of “Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications (vrittis) of the mind stuff (chitta).”   The vrittis have much in common with the skandhas of buddhism, particularly to the two skandhas of sankhara and vinnana (mental formations and predispositions).  See

The following aphorism in Patanjali states that when the vrittis are completely inhibited then the Seer rests in his own nature.  We might note that having developed the power of concentration the Seer can either be active in the world and thus the vrittis are also active during that time, or the Seer can still the vrittis and rest in samadhi or act from his/her Higher Ego. As the Mahatma KH writes: 

“An adept – the highest as the lowest – is one only during the exercise of his occult powers.  Whenever these powers are needed, the sovereign will unlocks the door to the inner man (the adept,) who can emerge and act freely but on condition that his jailor – the outer man will be either completely or partially paralyzed .  .  .  As no athlete is likely to be always amusing himself at swelling his veins in anticipation of having to lift a weight, so no adept can be supposed to keep his will in constant tension and the inner man in full function, when there is no immediate necessity for it. When the inner man rests the adept becomes an ordinary man, limited to his physical senses and the functions of his physical brain.”  (The Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, Letter 24b, Barker Edition)

The problem and challenge for the rest of us is not simply that the vrittis (or skandhas) are active but that we identify with them - “my thoughts”, “my feelings” - as part of the general outlook of ‘I am this person/personality’.  We could put it that our thoughts and feelings 'have us' rather than we have them.

Learning ‘the nature of dharana’, as HPB puts it, by the practice of concentration on an ‘interior object’ - perhaps at a particular time each day - may help us to both develop the ability and allow us, for at least some moments of the day, to wean ourselves off our identification with the mental contents.  This in turn may help with our general spiritual aim/aspiration in life.  Both would need to go hand in hand.  It’s no point imagining that I can still the vrittis during the time of meditation while leading a life of identification with them indulging them during other times throughout the day.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on December 6, 2013 at 10:39am

Thank you for all this Peter.  To put some of these ideas into simple terms you might say that concentration when looked at from a spiritual perspective and in line with what Mr. Judge in saying in this article is called Yoga in the east.  Yoga is not only something someone sits down to do periodically but it is also the trajectory of a whole lifetime (the line of life's mediation).  In other words, over all, which direction are we going?

The spiritual archer is trying to center their consciousness in the Self, the Light, the Spirit, call it what you want.  This is the Yoga Krishna is talking about I believe.  Reaching for the light requires us to leave behind, step by step, an identification and attachment to a personal self.

The times we sit down to meditate or contemplate, or the time we set aside to take a long walk to think by ourselves, or study periods are, in a sense,  practice exercises in what will eventually become continuous.  Our efforts to reach for the Light happen in fits and starts. And so it must be for us beginners.  In the sage it is unbroken. Discovering what it is that breaks our connection to the Higher Life, is what self-study is intended to solve.

Permalink Reply by Joseph Miller on March 3, 2014 at 9:38am
In Buddhism, so I read, meditation generally has two wings : shamatha (calm abiding) and vipashyana (insight). The meaning is partially conveyed in the metaphor of the steady-burning lamp, which is found in the 'Voice' and Gita. HH the Dalai Lama adds another dimension to the metaphor and suggests the meaning perfectly. If you wished to examine detailed cave paintings, you need a lamp that is both steady and bright. Obviously, unsteady and dim would be inadequate; but so would unsteady and bright, or steady and dim. Both brightness and steadiness are necessary. The bright insight of vipashyana reveals the emptiness (shunya) of the manner in which we impute 'inherent existence' onto subjects and objects. In simple language, we mentally project a solidity and autonomy onto things and persons which has no basis in fact. HH teaches that our consent in this illusion is what leads to exaggerated selfishness and disturbing emotions. This can be remedied with the bright lamp of insight, but that, in turn, depends upon our skill in stilling the mind.

Here is the second half of the article by Mr. Judge.

"The quality of the bow makes a great difference in the results attained by the archer. If it is not a good bow of strong texture and with a good spring to it, the missiles will not fly straight or with sufficient force to do the work required; and so with the man himself who is his own bow, if he has not the sort of nature that enables him to meet all the requirements, his work as a spiritual archer will fall that much short. But even as the bow made of wood or steel is subject to alterations of state, so we are encouraged by the thought that the laws of karma and reincarnation show us that in other lives and new bodies we may do better work. The archer says too that the bow often seems to alter with the weather or other earthly changes, and will on some days do much better work than on others. The same thing is found by the observing theosophist, who comes to know that he too is subject from time to time to changes in his nature which enable him to accomplish more and to be nearer the spiritual condition. But the string of the bow must always be strung tight; and this, in spiritual archery, is the fixed determination to always strive for the goal.

When the arrow is aimed and loosed it must be slightly raised to allow for the trajectory, for if not it will fall short. This corresponds on its plane with one of the necessities of our human constitution, in that we must have a high mental and spiritual aim if we are to hit high. We cannot go quite as high as the aim, but have to thus allow for the trajectory that comes about from the limitations of our nature; the trajectory of the arrow is due to the force of gravity acting on it, and our aspirations have the same curve in consequence of the calls of the senses, hereditary defects, and wrong habits that never permit us to do as much as we would wish to do.

Let us hit the mark, O friend! and that mark is the indestructible, the highest spiritual life we are at any time capable of."

Please let us continue our discussion on this article with your comments, thoughts and questions.

Views: 114

Replies to This Discussion

Is the effort to become a spiritual person related to striving for a noble ideal?

My return question would be: what do we mean when we use the term "strive"? Is it the same kind of effort that is used in concentration?

Yes, that is right.  Making an effort. "Self-induced, self-devised effort."

Hi Tamiko,

In the Key of Theosophy, section 2 

THEOSOPHIST. I have said already that a true Theosophist must put in practice the loftiest moral ideal, must strive to realize his unity with the whole of humanity, and work ceaselessly for others.

Somewhere, HPB said a good person may not necessarily be a spiritual person.  I always thought this is an interesting comment.  I guess, so much depends on how we define spirituality. 

Could you connect spiritual with compassionate? And how does becoming more compassionate relate to "Hitting the Mark"?  Does compassion require a certain measure of concentration?

If the ideal is truly noble, like universal brotherhood, then I would think that this is indeed a spiritual endeavor.  It is interesting to think about the role of concentration in following an ideal.  It seems like we deviate from the plan and lose focus easily.  Take for example the golden rule.  It is easy to say that I want to live by it but what happens when someone blocks the road with a flat tire while I am in a rush to get to an appointment?  After I hit the horn a few times I might remember my commitment to the golden rule a little later.  Remembering and coming back to an ideal is part of the concentration process I suppose.

I just stumbled upon this today and wanted to share. I suspect St. Paul has something similar to Judge in mind here:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.—Philippians 3:13-16

A nice little Christian version of the importance of concentration, and on where we choose to direct it.

"...and so with the man himself who is his own bow, if he has not the sort of nature that enables him to meet all the requirements, his work as a spiritual archer will fall that much short. But even as the bow made of wood or steel is subject to alterations of state, so we are encouraged by the thought that the laws of karma and reincarnation show us that in other lives and new bodies we may do better work."

While an obvious truth, it seems that we can only start from where we are and not from some imagined place or state of mind that we would rather be.  We have many weakness and imperfections, and no doubt our journey along the path will reveal even more just as it will call forth strengths we did not know we had until tried.  

The laws of karma and reincarnation when properly understood can be a source for hope in that our efforts today towards our most noble aim are not wasted just because we do not, as yet, see the results - results which may not bear fruit until some future life.

What a wonderful point you make here Peter and so encouraging.  As we struggle and stumble along it is easy to get discouraged.  Our karma from the past, the limitations of the vehicles, the unsteadiness of the mind all conspire to hold us down.  But I suspect from what you say here that is not the right way to look at it.  The archer takes out another arrow and tries again, and again and again until the target is met. Better to look at it as a challenge rather than an obstacle.  There is a wonderful self help book a fellow theosophist recommended to me once called, "All You Can Do, Is All You Can Do, And All You Can Do Is Enough".  The title kind of says it all but it reminds me of the encouragement given here by Peter.


"Have patience, Candidate, as one who fears no failure, courts no success. Fix thy Soul's gaze upon the star whose ray thou art, the flaming star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being, the boundless fields of the Unknown."

The Voice of the Silence (The Two Paths)

Some more on meditation from the Bhagavad-Gita:

"He who closeth all the doors of his senses, imprisoneth his mind in his heart, fixeth his vital powers in his head, standing firm in meditation, repeating the monosyllable OM, and thus continues when he is quitting the body, goeth to the supreme goal. He who, with heart undiverted to any other object, meditates constantly and through the whole of life on me shall surely attain to me, O son of Pritha."

Chapter 8 Judge edition

This passage points to meditation as both a life long endeavor and as a set discipline on a particular occasion.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Peter on December 13, 2013 at 11:53am

"Let us hit the mark, O friend! and that mark is the indestructible, the highest spiritual life we are at any time capable of."

I wonder if this is where study, aspiration and endeavour all come together?  For it may only be through the study of the Wisdom Tradition that we come to realise the extent of the many horizons that lie before us – one following on from the other - as we gradually remove the veils of ignorance that cover our inner sight. Through the knowledge of what IS and of what is possible our aspirations may begin to take wing, at first raising our vision, eventually lifting us above the mortal plains of suffering, grasping and false pleasures.  

Each small step upwards we make along the path is one step more from which we can turn and lift the fellow traveller.

Permalink Reply by Peter on December 14, 2013 at 10:28am

"The quality of the bow makes a great difference in the results attained by the archer. If it is not a good bow of strong texture and with a good spring to it, the missiles will not fly straight or with sufficient force to do the work required; and so with the man himself who is his own bow, if he has not the sort of nature that enables him to meet all the requirements, his work as a spiritual archer will fall that much short."

If each of us is "his own bow" then we each bear responsibility for its present make up and texture.  It is within the reach of each of us to take stock of ourselves and thereby discover what qualities of mind and heart are needed to both strengthen it and keep it supple enough to use.

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on December 14, 2013 at 12:54pm

What a lovely point Peter.  This reminds of of something from Emerson's  Self-Reliance essay:

"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.......Trust theyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

Permalink Reply by Peter on December 15, 2013 at 8:40am

That's beautiful, Grace.  Thanks for sharing.